Starring: Anthony Perkins, Meg Tilly, Vera Miles
“I don’t kill people anymore.” (Norman Bates, Psycho II)
NOTE: Spoilers for the original Psycho ahead – don’t read this if you don’t know (or don’t want to know) who the killer is in the original film.
When it comes to sequels created long after their predecessors, it’d take some doing to beat Psycho II. Released a massive 23 years after the original Psycho, the only thing even more amazing than this hefty gap is that despite the number of years that have passed the sequel still sees the return of Anthony Perkins in the lead role of Norman Bates.
Having spent more than two decades in a psychiatric hospital after the incidents of the first film, Norman is released on good behaviour and free to go back home. It doesn’t say much for the American justice system that he’s allowed to return to the house and motel where he committed two murders and start living there again, but there you have it.
In an attempt to integrate him back into society and get him living a normal life again, Norman’s doctor gets him a job at a local diner. There he meets Mary (Meg ‘Jennifer’s Sister’ Tilly), a 20-something girl who’s having boyfriend troubles. Norman offers her a free room at his motel and they become friends. The end.
Except it isn’t the end, because that would be the most boring film since Romeo & Juliet II: They’re Still Dead. You see, Norman may have been released on good behaviour, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t still nuttier than squirrel shit. And this is a squirrel who eats Snickers bars between his predominantly nut-based meals.
Norman once again starts imagining his mother is alive in the house. ‘Mother’ doesn’t approve of her son hanging around with a young woman and seemingly wants Norman to kill Mary. But is he really going mad again, or is someone messing around in the background in an attempt to make Norman lose his mind once more?
It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen the original film that Anthony Perkins is once again the best thing about Psycho II. Although Hitchcock’s sensational directorial style is sorely missed – making the film feel more like a standard ’80s horror flick rather than something truly special – Perkins is still a treat to watch.
He’s so difficult to read and yet so clearly disturbed that it’s nearly impossible to tell if he truly is capable of killing again, or whether he’s just a tormented soul trying to make amends but still plagued by the events of 1960.
Psycho II emulates its predecessor in one respect, in that it introduces a fairly big twist long before the film’s over. Whereas the first film killed off its supposed lead actress Janet Leigh 45 minutes in, shocking audiences worldwide, the second sheds a disturbing light on Mary and reveals that there’s more to her (and her own mother) than meets the eye.
You see (spoilers for the rest of this paragraph!), it turns out Mary’s mother is the sister of Janet Leigh’s character (played by Vera Miles, who also returns from the 1960 original), and she’s the one pretending to be Norman’s mum to try to make him go nuts. Mary’s in on it too, but after befriending Norman she begins to feel sorry for him and becomes convinced he’s innocent. Thus begins a battle between Mary and her mum, as the former tries to stop the latter from turning Norman cuckoo again.
Some may say this twist comes too early, but it does throw an interesting spanner into the works as otherwise the easy conclusion to come to would be that Norman has indeed lost it. This way a very real element of doubt is introduced.
Psycho II may not have been anywhere near as successful as its iconic predecessor, but that doesn’t mean it’s a dodgy sequel that should be ignored. It’s an interesting ’80s take on a ’60s classic, and one that’s worth seeing if you’re even a little curious to know what happened to Norman Bates after the first film.
The daft ending aside (where Norman’s family tree is unnecessarily shaken, the events of the first film are trivialised a tad and it all gets a bit silly), it’s also a unique chance to see how an actor who isn’t Sylvester Stallone can evolve a much-loved character more than two decades after his last appearance.
HOW CAN I SEE IT?
At the time of writing, the only way to get an in-print version Psycho II in the UK is by buying the Psycho Collection DVD box set, which contains all four Psycho movies.